The Adventures
Frodo Gardner

Volume I
Where Many Paths and Errands Meet
By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 11, Part 11
Warrior's Drill
(September 25, 1451)

Frodo opened his eyes upon a scarlet creature with a snake coming out of its face above the most enormous fangs he'd ever seen. With a cry he hurled himself away from the pavilion wall, only to hear Uncle Merry laughing. He turned from the painted oliphaunt to see the older hobbit already dressed and puffing on his pipe, watching him. He also saw his clothes for the day laid out for him--including the mithril shirt that Papa had stashed in his pack. Then he saw that Merry himself wore a green leather jerkin with the white horse of Rohan on the breast, and his hand held a sword.
"Go ahead--put it on. It goes between your undershirt and your overshirt, unless you want to advertise it--then you wear it over everything."
Frodo picked it up, hesitating, and felt the mail flow through his fingers, cold and fluid like some kind of water-cloth. Then he shrugged it on, feeling less like his old self than ever. "Do you fear some kind of danger?" he asked.
"Not yet, but we should be ready for anything. And we've got some training to do before breakfast."
"Training?" Frodo was hobbit enough to feel his heart sink at the words "before breakfast."
Merry nodded. "I promised your father. There's a fairly flat area just east of this thicket. Meet me there when you're ready."
They went out into a blue morning of mists and silhouettes, each leaf and twig dripping jewels of last night's rain. As they passed Legolas, Frodo saw such sweet, slumbering bliss in the muddy face that he wondered if sleeping in the rain might not feel good--refreshing, perhaps. After Frodo washed his face and whatnot, he joined Merry out in the grasslands. Merry stared southward to the horizon, over rolling hills and pastures fading into haze.
"Can you see beyond that river, there, Frodo?"
"You mean that denser line of fog, way in the distance? Yes, I think so."
"You're looking on the outskirts of Rohan." Frodo gaped at him in such surprise that Merry laughed. "Your eyes can fool you, with so little to stand out between here and there--it's a lot farther than it appears. It'll take many days to reach the first villages, let alone Edoras. But at least you've got some idea of what's ahead of you. And now..." he said as he pulled up a water-skin, "time for practice. Here--drink up, first. You'll sweat so much you'll think you're at summer harvest." As Frodo obeyed, Merry said, "We'll use the swords still in their sheathes, at least to begin with. But first you'll have to learn the proper use of your legs."
Merry made Frodo stand, advance, retreat, and pivot with his knees always bent, as the rising sun burned off the mists, and Frodo's thighs burned, too, from unfamiliar exercise. They never did get around to using the swords, sheathed or not. Merry taught him to sweep the ground in arcs with every step, to feel out rocks and branches hidden in the grass while keeping his eyes in front of him. But never once did the old warrior let him straighten up. "Your real power is in your legs, Frodo, more than your arms. You want to always have some give in your body, like the bow-springs on a fine carriage. Keeping your knees flexed gives you that extra bounce."
Frodo fell to the grass with a groan. "I've got all the bounce of a teacup right now," he complained.
Merry laughed as he helped the youth up. "Time for breakfast, I think."
"Thank goodness!" As he hobbled back to camp, travel by pony seemed more desirable with every step. But before they got there, Frodo smelled a horrible odor, like burning hair. "What's that stench?" he asked.
"The silk tent!" Merry cried. "I must've left my pipe in it!" They ran back, but the tent looked exactly as they'd left it, the pipe settled harmlessly on a stone outside. The smell came from the freshly laundered wool blanket steaming itself dry on a couple spits over a fire, tended by one scrubbed-up elf in the best of spirits.
Frodo said, "I don't care what elves cook for breakfast, but I'm not eating that!"
Legolas laughed--a far more wholesome laugh than on the night they'd met. He glanced at the "dwarf-kit" which he'd laid out--empty--beside the fire. "Oh, I would never dream of competing with the son of Sam Gamgee in the culinary arts."
Merry said, "Indeed, Frodo--what's for breakfast?"
Frodo moaned theatrically, and limped as noticeably as possible when he fetched water for their porridge, but the two old friends just sat there by the fire grinning at him, their unpacked bowls and spoons ready and waiting. As Frodo rummaged through their store of food, Merry called out, "I've got a spice that's just perfect for porridge, ground from a red tree's bark. Would you care to try it?"
Frodo felt in no mood for any of Merry's exotic spices--at least not first thing in the morning. "You'll have to settle for honey, and pretend there's cream to go with it."
As Frodo grumbled over the steaming porridge, Merry turned to Legolas. "You realize, friend, that from now on your blanket will smell like smoke."
"So? After you trammeled all of our supplies into a tent with you last night, while you indulged your peculiar taste for pipeweed, everything we have now smells like smoke."
Merry picked up his pipe with a flourish and relit it on a twig from the fire. "Ah, the scent of home sweet home. Speaking of homes and other lodgings, Legolas, next time you do business with Brandybuck Mercantile, why don't you stay at Tom Bombadil's? I'm sure he'll have you--he likes elves. And he has his ways of getting messages to me."
Legolas did a double-take. "You would brave the Old Forest for me?"
"Oh, come now! Do you think I smuggled myself into the Battle of Pelennor for nobody in particular?" The hobbit looked genuinely hurt. "The way you keep underestimating your friends, Legolas, I'm beginning to wonder if we're the ones fading."
"I apologize. I have suffered so many disappointments that...never mind. You are right, of course--somehow I believe that even if you no longer knew me you might risk yourself for me anyway."
"Besides, Legolas--sometimes I venture into the Old Forest for the sheer deviltry of it." He puffed happily on his pipe, grinning at a memory. "The Master of Brandy Hall, after all, has to keep his juniors awed at whatever he might dare next."
"Breakfast's on," Frodo said, and ladled out their bowls.
After receiving his food from Frodo, Legolas handed the hobbit his sister's glass. "Here. I borrowed it to set the fire. You should never just leave it about, Frodo--not after it fought off a wight for you."
"You know about that?"
Legolas laughed with a sound as joyous as birds in spring. "But you were there when your father told me the whole adventure--or at least your body was. I think your mind went off dancing with some maidens of your people." As Frodo blushed, Legolas asked, "How did your sister come by it, anyway?"
"It's a gift from the King, from when my family visited the court. She was born there, you know." He held it twinkling in the sun, as he remembered his very first adventure.
"From the Queen, rather, I'd say--the work is elvish." Legolas smiled on the lens. "And it has quite a lovely mother-spell upon it."
"Really? What's a mother-spell."
"Pass me some more of that porridge, Merry--this is delicious!" Frodo noticed that the elf ate as much as the hobbits--and could use it. "What is a mother-spell? Merely something that we like to add to our toys, in affection for our children." For a moment his face clouded. "Not that I have seen a child born of elves in this, the fourth age," he murmured to himself. Then, more brightly, he said, "Children learn by playing, as I am sure you have noticed. We simply add a little something to enhance the lessons. An elf-made toy sword, for instance, enhances valor. A doll enhances nurturing. A ball enhances agility. And a magnifying-glass enhances perceptiv..." Then he stopped, and Frodo saw a change in the elf's face.
Legolas laughed, but nervously this time. "Yes, of course--the ability to see more deeply and in detail--perhaps that explains why you could see me for what I am right away, though you had never met me before." He pretended to be pleased; Frodo saw that he pretended.
"What a pity--you mean that by the time I get home my sister May will have lost all of that marvelous insight of hers?"
"Only if she wants to. We love our children and force nothing upon them. If the enhancements suit their natures, children hold onto them, and let them grow like seeds well-watered and nourished. If they prefer otherwise, the seeds will not take root once they put aside their toys. They are gifts, not commands."
Frodo held the glass tightly and decided that this was one seed he intended to husband with all the gardening-skill that he possessed. Carefully he asked, "And if I examined you through this lens, Legolas, what would I see?"
The elf's eyes widened for just an instant, and then he smiled with false cheer. "Pores, of course. Just as with any magnifying glass. It is not a palantir, Frodo." But they both knew what Frodo now confirmed: that the elf had something to hide.

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